Wallingford construction project lost in fire after problems with squatters
A Wallingford construction project of townhomes went up in flames early Thursday morning — and the developer believes that he knows who is to blame.
Adam Salmon, whose business, Eugene Sherman Development, has been building seven row houses on 43rd Street just off Aurora, said that a group of drug-using squatters have refused to vacate the property for months, even becoming belligerent when asked to leave. He is almost certain that one of these men caused the fire that robbed him of a large part of his livelihood.
“We don’t know if he did it on purpose, if he was angry that we called the police yet again, or if it was drug cooking gone bad,” Salmon told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.
Now he is out $1.2 million to $1.3 million, and the project that has been under construction for the past year is reduced to a pile of rubble. Eugene Sherman Development — named for the first names of both of Salmon’s grandfathers — is small, Salmon said, and tremendous losses like this one are not easy to absorb.
“It’s one of those punches in the gut that you have to pull yourself together,” he said. Insurance does not cover all of the costs of getting the Wallingford construction project back to the state it had been in.
The squatters have caused Salmon’s company grief for the past several months. Salmon said wryly that it was “a ritual every morning” trying to get the drug users to leave — in particular the group’s ringleader, who was “very defiant” when confronted.
“My guys would show up to work in the morning and there would be guys sleeping in there, and their drug paraphernalia was laying everywhere,” he said. “We would ask them to leave and they’d get aggressive.”
Each morning, Salmon and his employees found feces around the site. His employees were afraid of stepping on needles, and sub-contractors even refused to come to the project site out of fear.
“We had to spend our time chasing them each day, and then cleaning up the work site,” Salmon said.
Salmon has called police to the site several times, but to no avail. He and his workers put up “No trespassing” signs and fences around the property at the police’s suggestion.
“No matter how secure we attempted to make it, they found their way in every evening,” he said of the squatters.
On Wednesday, Salmon said the police came to the work site while the ‘lead squatter’ was still sleeping there.
“They talked to the guy, they told us they can’t do anything about it … They didn’t make him move, they didn’t make him leave,” Salmon said.
When Salmon got the phone call with the terrible news at 6:30 a.m. the next morning, he had “no doubt” what it would be about.
“I knew that something happened with these guys that were living there,” he said. “There was just no question — I was hoping it wasn’t as bad as it turned out to be, but unfortunately it was pretty much a total loss.”
Salmon has another project in Capitol Hill, which he said is the same scenario as his Wallingford construction project.
“Every day we’re chasing away people, every night they’re coming back in,” he said. “We looked at getting security guards, but that’s about a $24,000 a month proposition, which I can’t afford.”
Owning his own construction company was a lifelong dream for Salmon. But now, he said, the dream has become a nightmare. He has written to the Seattle City Council of his travails, he said, but it seems as though the city government favors drug-addicted trespassers over hard-working, law-abiding business owners.
“It should be humorous, but it’s too painful to be humorous,” he said.